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Kerry asked why no action against Russian diplomat

December 24, 2013 16:08 IST

Amidst a row over the arrest of a senior Indian diplomat on visa fraud charges, a top American lawmaker has asked Secretary of State John Kerry why no action was taken against dozens of Russian diplomats allegedly defrauding United States government's benefits programmes.

Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the powerful foreign relations committee, in a strongly worded letter to Kerry, said he is deeply troubled by recent dozens of Russian diplomats and their dependents apparently engaged in systematic Medicaid fraud while in the US.

According to Preet Bharara, the Indian-American US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, 25 current and former Russian diplomats and 24 of their spouses allegedly participated in a scheme to illegally obtain Medicaid benefits for prenatal care and related costs by underreporting their income or falsely claiming that their children were citizens of the US.

In the last decade, they and other co-conspirators received approximately $1.5 million in benefits to which they were not entitled.

"How will the administration treat the 11 named defendants who, according to the US attorney, remain in the United States?  Will you ask the Russian government to waive their immunity so that they can be prosecuted? If not, will the department declare them persona non grata?" Royce asked.

"How will the administration treat the 38 named defendants who, according to the US attorney, no longer reside in the United States?  Will you request that they be extradited to stand trial?  If not, will the department impose a US visa ban on them?" he asked.

Royce said the unsealing of the US attorney's criminal complaint raises a number of issues about the administration's options for handling this matter and the interagency coordination during the precursor investigation.

Royce's comments came as the arrest of senior diplomat Devyani Khobragade on December 12 in New York for alleged visa fraud sparked outrage in India and prompted a diplomatic row with the US.

Lalit K Jha in Washington